The death of a family member causes emotional, psychological, and financial harm to the survivors. Texas law recognizes that these injuries are real, and allows specific family members to bring a lawsuit against the person who negligently caused the death. Since the wrongfulness of the death is what matters, the incident that caused the death may be involve virtually any kind of accident, including car crashes, falls in a public store, electrocutions, drownings, nursing home neglect, shootings, and so on.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?
In Texas, the right to sue for wrongful death is specifically granted by a statute. It enumerates exactly which surviving family members are entitled to bring a suit:
While that sounds clear enough, many circumstances can complicate the case. There are divorces, separations, adoptions, and other events that can cast doubt on someone’s right to sue for wrongful death. For example, does divorce prevent someone from being a “spouse,” and, if so, when exactly was the divorce “final?” Was there ever a formal marriage? These complications should be handled by an experienced wrongful death attorney.
The law allows everybody who meets the definition of any one of these categories to sue. So in almost all cases, more than one person has the right to bring a wrongful death action. Every named survivor can join in a single wrongful death action, or, alternatively, some of the survivors can bring the suit “for the benefit” of everyone.
If no eligible claimant begins a wrongful death claim within three months of the underlying death, Texas law specifies that an action be started by the estate’s executor unless each and every one of the named survivors asks that no suit be brought.
What Damages Can Be Awarded?
The “damages” for wrongful death are basically what the survivors have lost because of the relative’s death. That’s frequently a complicated question, and various claimants may suffer different amounts of loss based on the nature of their relationship to the deceased. In broad terms, wrongful death damages consist of:
- The services, support, and care that the claimant would have received from the deceased
- The companionship that the survivor would have enjoyed had the deceased not died
- The mental anguish endured because of the death
- Any amount by which the claimant’s inheritance will be diminished; essentially, how much more would the claimant have inherited if the deceased had lived a normal life span and continued to add to the estate
Since not all claimants will have suffered the same amount of loss, the law leaves it up to the jury to decide how the total damages should be divided up among the claimants.
“Survival Actions” Differ from “Wrongful Death”
In a sense, everyone entitled to bring a wrongful death claim is the “survivor” of the person who died, but a “survival action” differs from one for “wrongful death” and is not brought by the surviving relatives. Survival actions are attempts to recover the damages which the deceased people could have recovered for themselves if they had not died. While the events that caused the death are usually the same in both kinds of lawsuits, it is the estate of the deceased which brings the survival action, and the damages recovered become part of the deceased’s estate. Obviously, the surviving relatives may well end up benefitting from the damages in a survival action, but only if they inherit from the estate under the terms of the deceased’s will.
Survival Action Damages
Survival action damages typically may include any of the following if adequate proof is provided:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral expenses
- Physical pain
- Mental anguish
If the circumstances support it, punitive damages can also be awarded.
Legal Help for Families in the Wake of a Wrongful Death
Both wrongful death and survival actions are complicated. Not only are there numerous potential claimants, but there are many different legal and factual issues that have to be proved in order to recover damages. There can be no recovery without clearly proving that the person who caused the death is legally responsible. That requires experience with the specific type of accident that caused the death—auto accidents, products liability claims, falls, etc.—as well as with the technicalities of wrongful death and survival suits.
Hire A Reputable Austin Wrongful Death Lawyer for Your Case
The Austin personal injury law firm of Briggle & Polan, PLLC, has successfully handled many accident and death cases of all kinds. We know what facts establish liability, and we know how to deal with the defendants, their insurance companies, and their attorneys. We have a consistent history of success. We know the value of settling the case when that’s in our clients’ interests, and we are always ready to see the case through to trial when that’s what our client’s interests require.
Call us today to arrange for a free consultation. Tell us what happened and we’ll let you know the best way to proceed. 512-472-1926